Category Archives: Food

Anything about food but the emphasis in on organics. If you grow it then you must like eating it!

A garden heals the worried mind

The stresses of the last few months have been hard to live with and there seems no end to the situation. For me the garden has helped enormously, I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it.

I found this article today by Helen Chesnut a well-known garden writer from Canada. What she says resonated deeply with my own experience over the years while trying to cope with what the TV now calls a life changing event. The garden healed in many ways, emotionally and physically; never underestimate the power of even gentle exercise. And, growing fruit and veg improves diet.

Helen says: “Then, there is the garden. Whether it’s a landscaped acreage, an allotment plot, or a collection of potted balcony plants, a garden is refuge and solace in the face of stress and anxiety. A garden heals. The worries of the world that buzz about in our minds slip away as we delve in the soil and tend our plants.” See the whole article here or click on the image below.

Photograph By Helen Chesnut

Now that lock down has been eased in the UK, for the time being, the urgency to grow food to fill the gaps left by food shortages may have diminished. There will be other critical events which have the same effect. Some say it will be a no-deal Brexit or climate change as new and unpredictable weather patterns decimate once reliable crops. We cannot know what the future will bring but we can be better prepared to look after ourselves.

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The human cost of cheap food

This is a video about rural poverty in Derbyshire. It totally blows the popular myth “there’s no such thing as a poor farmer”.

This is the reality of cheap food in supermarkets and it is repeated all over the world. Somebody somewhere picks up the tab, it’s usually the farmer.

 

“Urban dwellers yearn for ‘Good Life’ allotments”

By chance the BBC are running this piece today, it is well worth a read. They say:

“Land set aside for allotments in the UK has declined by 65% from a peak in the “dig for victory” and post-war era.”

“Lost allotments” could provide 6% of the UK population with their five-a-day fruit and veg

“We have already seen a huge increase in the number of people interested in growing their own food as a result of coronavirus, with garden centres and online shops selling out of seeds in the first weeks of lockdown.

“Coronavirus has… highlighted to people the fragility inherent within our globalised food system. In a time of crisis, interest in self-sufficiency rises.”

What more evidence do we need to take this seriously?

What are people for?

Wendell Berry’s book “What are people for?” is more appropriate today than when it was published 30 years ago. In one paragraph he sums up exactly what it means to be a passive consumer of food.

“We still (sometimes) remember that we cannot be free if our minds and voices are controlled by someone else. But we have neglected to understand that we cannot be free if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else. The condition of the passive consumer of food is not a democratic condition. One reason to eat responsibly is to live free.”

Wendell Berry, “What are people for?”, North Point Press, New York, 1990. P.147

It’s time to think about winter

It’s almost mid-summer so time to think about winter planting. There are two ways to ensure you have fresh veg over winter: choose crops that grow in the summer and stay in the ground over winter or sow seeds in late summer of plants that can be harvested through the winter. Most veg growers do both.

The main thing about deciding how to get a year-round harvest is where you live. In the south and south west the winters are generally milder than in the north. That is not always the case and with the changes to the climate over the last 30 years it is hard to predict how the winter will be. Choose the varieties that suit your location. Ask other local gardeners what they do.

The other thing you can do is protect your crops, that means covering them. Don’t be fooled by the idea that you can use a cheap fleece ‘blanket’, and everything will be fine. Fleece might stop ice crystals forming on the foliage which could help them to survive, but it will not insulate the crop from the cold.

The 3 solar pods made last year. The beds are 2m x 1m with a centre divider. The pods are 1m square so can be used on any bed. The long bed on the right has been divided into 4, 1msquare beds.

To keep out the cold you need something substantial like, a  poly tunnel, a cold frame or a DIY solar pod. It is possible to be harvesting lettuce from January – March if you protect the crop and get the right seeds. One year we had lettuce in a polytunnel  that were completely covered in ice. It thawed and we ate them! Or if you are really dedicated you can make hot beds which uses the heat from manure buried under the soil to keep things warm. It does work but is a lot of work. See how to make hotbeds here.

Hot bed with insulated walls.

The practical approach is to choose plant varieties that will thrive through winter and use some physical protection if you can.

Things we don’t sow try to over winter: garlic, we use a short dormancy variety with cloves planted in January when the weather is suitable. Neither do we sow broad beans in the autumn. Our garden is 300m ASL so winter can be long cold and very wet! If you live further south it is always worth trying to over winter as many crops as you can.

Another option is to move the plants out of the garden. A greenhouse is fine if you have one but a good supply of salad leaves can be grown on a sunny windowsill. Our salad crops are grown in trays on the lettuce table which can be moved into the greenhouse. Watercress will be in a smaller tray and again will over winter in the greenhouse. You can also grow in containers that can be moved inside when it gets colder.


Red lettuce in a bucket.

Don’t forget to make holes in the bottom. Fill with bagged compost – not garden soil as it is too dense for small containers. You can grow a lot of food in containers, see this site.

These are some varieties we have like.
Lettuce: Winter Density and Winter Gem.
Spinach: Perpetual  also known as Spinach Beet.
Carrot: Bolero, Eskimo F1, a new variety we are trying this year.
Kale: Cavolo Nero because the curly green variety is everywhere now.
Parsnip: most varieties will sit in the ground for months, we like Tender & True.
Leeks: Musselburgh, they can stay in the ground to February/March.

Potatoes are lifted and stored in hessian sacks and can last into March.
Onions are harvested, dried and stored in net sacks.

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We need new food systems

It is 30 years since the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services was opened by Margret Thatcher. She said; “What it predicts will affect our daily lives. Governments and international organisations in every part of the world are going to have to sit up and take notice and respond…” They have not done that.

What the scientists are predicted 30 years ago was exactly right; the climate has changed. The weather patterns we are seeing now are here to stay. They affect everything we do especially growing food. It is no use saying that if things go wrong here we can go to ‘the market’ because the effects of climate change are worldwide.

We need is to change the way food is grown and distributed or starve. That means radical new solutions that serve local communities and get away from a centralised system that relies on huge farms selling though a few large retailers or the dwindling number of wholesale markets.

One solution would be to move to community supported farms, CSAs where people invest in a farm in return for a weekly supply of seasonal veg. Farms, in CSA terms, would more likely be known as market gardens in the UK.

This is a good example of how an American CSA responded to Covid-19

This is how a CSA adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic

CSAs are similar to how food used to be grown and sold 50 years ago in areas like the Vale of Evesham, Kent, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. There are still remnants of it on the Lincolnshire Norfolk Border.

A Norfolk market gardener who has a small shop next to his house.

Villages and towns should start to harness the power of allotments through food shares and mini produce markets. That might require some changes to allotment regulations, but it would be far better than allowing surplus produce to be wasted.

We could also return to selling at the garden gate like many used to do in the 1950s and 60s. Again, there are probably regulations that prohibit it but we desperately need to be creative or face food shortages very soon.

Most of all we need food to be grown sustainably i.e. in the most environmentally friendly way possible without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

Bountiful green ‘playgrounds’

Another interesting article from The Straits Times Note: the circuit breaker is the Singapore version of lock down.

Having just sown a lot of radish seeds this caught my eye “….. no vegetable goes to waste. Radish roots are used to make fried radish cake, while the radish tops go into soups and stir-fried dishes.”

Singapore has long been a leader in growing food in cities. Chengi Hospital has a roof top farm which produces fresh vegetables for the kitchens, no cook-chill there! There has to be innovation cities where space is at a premium. There are also important lessons here about local food as Tim Lang says:

“Food may come to consumers locally – in your shop or home – but is actually the result of international , national and regional dynamics”
[From: “Why UK Food Security Matters” Page 66 · Location 1538 Kindle edition. Accessed 18/05/2020 0653]

Much more could be done in the UK if there was the will to do it. That means accepting that our food supply is at best precarious and that we need to produce more locally. The current politics is set on abandoning UK farming and trusting ‘the market’.

Can’t find it – grow it!

It’s the same the world over. If people cannot find the produce they want in supermarkets they are growing it. This article is about a woman in Singapore who could not find Okra in her local supermarket so started gardening again. “We rely on other (countries) for our food, if they don’t sell to us we have nothing to eat…”

Things like lettuce and other salad greens are easy to grow and can mature in as little as 5-6 weeks. And you don’t always need a garden. We are about to start a trial of a very simple system made from recycled parts that can be used to grow salad crops. More coming soon.

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UK government and food supply chain during Covid 19 emergency

This is an audio file on BBC Sounds, it is the Farming Today radio broadcast from 28 April 2020. The interesting bit is where Prof Tim Land is interviewed about the way the UK government has handled the food supply during the Covid 19 national emergency. It starts at around 09:21 – towards the end of the piece.

Listen Here the link connects to the BBC site

Tim Lang has been saying that the food supply in the UK is precarious for over 10 years yet nobody has listened. We need a hell of a lot more diversification in the supply chain – more market gardens, more local markets more independent retailers and more organic growing! As he says, to put the whole food supply chain in the hands of 9 big companies is daft. I would say that it is more like criminal negligence.

Germination and planning for winter!

Seeds sown direct in beds on 10 April have started to germinate – carrots, parsnips, broad beans and peas in modules. Still no sign of the leeks sown in modules but there is time enough to resow if needed.

I must admit to having never lost the fascination of seeing seeds germinate.

Now is the time to plan follow on crops for winter. Just found this book which we got several years back. This year we want to get it right so that there is food right through until next spring.

Eliot Coleman explains the four season harvest